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DJC - New Tank Journal

4424 Views 44 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Mach5
A bit of background on my fish tank experience. As a kid we always had some kind of tank growing up. Mostly 5-20 gal. Generally cycled and cleaned out the tanks every few months, didn't keep live plants, and most of the time the fish lasted less than a year.

As an adult, my kid got a comet goldfish at a state fair. We were visiting from out of state and I never thought the fish would live (it was in a tiny plastic carrier). When it survived a week, we got a bowl and put him in there. Eventually I got tired of changing his water every few days, so I bought a 10 gal aquarium and put him in that. I eventually got an Anubias Nana and something else because I liked the idea of natural plants in an aquarium. That fish lived about 3 years until my daughter insisted on buying him a "friend" and we put a pleco in the tank and within a week both were dead. After that I cleaned and reset the tank and put neons in there, but they died, too. After a few other attempts I decided the tank was cursed and I wouldn't buy any more fish for it. But, then my older daughter and I got the idea to "fish" some mosquito fish out of a local culvert drain. We brought home about 30 and I put some java moss and a new Anubias plant in there and we were "off to the races." Those fish slowly died off over the first year or so until I got down to about 4, then eventually 3 of the remaining 4 died off until I was left with one. That fish seemed to do fine in the tank even after the java moss was removed. I have kept that fish and tank pretty much under control (save the constant battle against algae) for 3 years (unfortunately the last fish passed last night).

That 10 gal just had a single fluorescent light, was kept on a dark shelf, and had a timer to cycle the light so that it got daylight for about 8-ish hours. The Anubias has survived but hasn't grown much. When I last pulled it out I discovered it had a huge long root. The guy as the LFS says that means it was nitrogen-starved. The substrate was just cheap fish-store small blue gravel and I didn't change water or clean the bottom often so there was significant malm.

About 8 years ago we adopted a bearded dragon that came in a 55 gal aquarium. It was really too small for him, so I built him a home out of an old TV cabinet. That left me with a 55 gal aquarium just begging for me to do something with it. So I started researching and checked out books from the library on aquariums. That's when I discovered that Walstad method. I started reading up on the internet about it and learned bits and pieces. I decided that when I did my aquarium I was going to go for the low tech route. It seemed both less expensive and less involved than the CO2, heavy lighting route (though the latter do make for some amazingly beautiful set-ups).

About a year or so ago I got a new top frame for the 55 gal (heat lamp damaged the old one) and put it in the back yard on the cement slab and filled it. I let it run for a week or so and it seemed to hold water. But then it got an algae bloom so I drained it and put it back in the garage, as I didn't have time to start the project then.
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
O.k, now on to the actual project.

I have a pretty standard fish-store style rectangular 55 gal aquarium. I bought a Current Satellite Pro 48" LED light for it. Probably overkill (and definitely expensive) but it has a lot of features including the ability to control the light levels and color and a built in timer. Plus LEDs are supposed to last 6 years and fluorescents never seem to last much more than a year.

Base substrate is Miracle grow organic soil. On top of that is inexpensive pea gravel. I put the Anubias Nana and the tank decorations from the 10 gal tank into this one. For water I just used tap. Our tap water here is fairly alkaline and has a high level of calcium. I did put a bit of conditioner in. Most of the water came from the sink but I put about 5 gal from the old tank into the new one. I have reused the old HOB filter from the 10 gal, which really doesn't fit but is just a temporary. Actually I have two -- one at each end of the tank. I mostly want them to break up surface tension, as my understanding is that with an NP tank you really want the ecology of the tank to do its own filtration. Neither HOB has any charcoal or anything, so really at this point it truly is just circulation. This is what I did for the 10 gal for years. The only thing is these are kind of noisy and they don't really fit correctly on the top of the 55 gal because the glass and frame are wider.

I got a bunch of plants from the LFS. Honestly I'm not sure on the names. I asked for fast-growing plants.

I set things up yesterday. The aquarium is on the kitchen island so it is viewable from all sides. As such I don't have a true "front" or "back", though my intention is generally to treat the side facing the dining area as the front and the side facing the sink as the back. I chose this location because there is tile all around (in case of catastrophe), the island has a granite countertop, so I believe it is already built to take the weight, and it was a good area for viewing that kept it out of the way.

Right now the water is a bit cloudy still. I did a water test this morning. pH is 7.4. Ammonia is between .25-.5ppm. Nitrites are at 0. Nitrates around 30ppm. So, seemingly all is good. I imagine that as the bacteria load increases the tank will clear. Also, I've read that this is a common issue with tanks with a soil substrate, especially when first set up.

What's next? Well, for the moment I want to monitor. I would like to get a LOT more plant in there. My objective would be to have most of the ground level covered in low level plants. I would like to get a moss ball and I think that later today I will get some java moss to float at the top, as I understand having a plant with air exchange will help control algae growth.

Fish -- I hadn't really planned to put in fish, other than the mosquito fish I had. But now that he's gone, I'm open to suggestions. I wouldn't mind a couple fresh water shrimp. I also wouldn't mind a comet goldfish (I don't really like the fancy goldfish) just for color, but from my experience they are hard to keep and will grow large. I never bother with snails because they seem to always find their way into the tank on their own (i.e., hidden in the plants I buy). For me the fish are mostly there to support the plants, and maybe to add a bit of visual interest. So, I tend to prefer if they stay small and unobtrusive. Plus, I'm looking to keep this as low maintenance as possible.

If you have suggestions on light-levels and other plants I should be adding, please share.

The second photo was taken last night. Color difference between the two photos is due to one being set for daylight and the other for something closer to dusk.
 

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Are you heating the tank? If so, you could add one beautiful angelfish and a school of rummy nose tetras. Or, a nice sized school of diamond tetras (very active) and 5-6 cories.

Some of the smaller fish I love and have in a couple of smaller tanks (20g) are green neons, dwarf pencilfish, and Vietnamese white cloud mountain minnows (Tanichthys micagemmae). There are also the regular white cloud mountain minnows (Tanichthys albonubes) which can take a little cooler temps. A large school of these alone might look very nice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Day 2 readings:

pH: 7.8

Ammonia: 1.0 ppm

Nitrite: .5 ppm

Nitrate: 40ppm +

Thoughts? Do I need to do anything at this point or just wait to see if the tank settles in?

I ran daylight for about 11 hours today, mostly because I hadn't yet had a chance to set up the timer on the light. Even now with the tank light off there is still ambient light from kitchen lighting, dining area lighting, and some natural light.

No algae yet. Well, other than the bit that was on the decorations transferred from the other tank.

Water is much clearer, but yellowish in color.

Originally I planned to float some Java Moss at the top. Should I do this now or wait?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Day 3:

pH: 7.8

Ammonia: 2.0 ppm

Nitrite: .5-1ppm

Nitrate: 80+ppm

Getting some die off (burn?) -- mostly on the bottom leaves of plants close to the soil.

Anyone want to offer some direction? Doe it make sense to do a water change (or partial)?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Day 4:

pH: 7.8

Ammonia: 4.0

Nitrite: .25-.5

Nitrate: 160ppm

I did about a 50% water change after taking the above measurements. The plants aren't doing very well...there is a lot of burning, stems just withering away, etc.

Post water change:

pH: 7.6

Ammonia: .25 -.5

Nitrite: .25

Nitrate: 80

Not perfect (I would like to see Ammonia at or near 0) but certainly better. Also, the water change removed much of the yellow tannin color to the water, too. Tank continues to get clearer.

I plan to add more plants but would like the water column to stabilize a bit before doing that.

Admittedly, I started this journal mostly as a place to keep notes on my progress. Still, is anyone else reading this?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Day 5

pH: 7.8

Ammonia: .5

Nitrites: 1

Nitrates: 160ppm

Did a 10% water change tonight. Plan going forward is to do daily water changes until the ammonia and nitrites come online.

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Is the ammonia just leaching from the soil? I have a dirted tank but it's capped with sand so I haven't really experienced that kind of leaching. Anyways, plants can't tolerate that much ammonia, so I'd be doing regular water changes, like 30%+ to keep the ammonia below 3ppm if I were you...

But doing water changes to keep ammonia at 0 doesn't make much sense to me... You're not going to cycle that way, and up to 1-2ppm isn't going to kill your plants. Why are your nitrates so high? I don't understand how that would happen in under a week unless you're using "dirty" filter media or substrate. There's 30ppm nitrate in your tap (judging from day 1 reading)?

Also, is the soil you're using Miracle Gro Organic Potting Mix? Or is it the Miracle Gro Organic Garden Soil, which contains cow manure? If it's any soil that contains cow manure, that would explain a lot of your problems, I think.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for chiming in.

Day 1 reading was after the tank had been set up for a day, not from when I filled the tank.

Miracle grow potting mix. No manure.

Right now I'm just keeping the ammonia between .25-.5 ppm. I think the only way I could keep it at 0 would be to do nearly 100% water changes. My plants seem under stress, particularly the pennywart, which is having stems just melt away.

I imagine the high results are from the soil. I don't have sand over the top, just gravel, so I don't have as much of a barrier.

I'm using tap water. We have hard water with a lot of calcium. This contributes to the higher pH.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Ran a test on my tap water to get a baseline. The pH was 7.6 and ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are all 0.

I also ran a pH test on some RO bottled water which was around 7 to 7.2. The purpose of this was just to make sure my testing chemicals were good and that I'm doing the testing correctly.

So I guess that confirms the readings are based off soil and gravel in the aquarium.

I wonder if things would improve if I increased the plant load...at least as to nitrates?

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It makes sense that the soil would leach ammonia into the aquarium, especially if you directly added the potting mix without going through a mineralization process. There is a goodly amount of organic material in there to break down. If you have no fauna at the moment I wouldn't worry about it. Your levels don't seem anywhere near high enough to be stressing plants, and they'll certainly help with the uptake of ammonia and nitrates. The plants melting is likely just from the stress of moving them, or if they were grown emersed when you purchased them at the LFS they may be transitioning to an immersed form. I could not tell from your picture the exact types of plants you have or what is having issues, but things like crypts are particularly susceptible to melting. Often they will grow right back. Wait until root systems are more established and look for new growth.

You also mention the water taking on a yellow color, and that is going to be from the tannins released from the wood you have. It's not harmful for anything, and the tannic acid can even help with lowering the pH level if the fish you like to keep prefer it that way. Some people like the natural sort of look it gives. I don't, and activated carbon or Purigen will clear up the water if you care enough to add them. Else boiling the wood a few times will help reduce the amount leaching in the future.

Good luck with the tank, though. I'm a fan myself of aquariums view-able from multiple sides; I feel like it cab give the tank more of a sense of being a slice out of nature than a picture on a wall or piece of decoration.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Dr. Acula - Thanks for the encouragement. The one piece of driftwood in the aquarium right now came out of my old 10 gal aquarium and has been in a tank for 4-5 years. I don't think the tanins are coming from it. Instead, I think the tannins are coming from the potting soil, which looked to have a fair bit of wood in it. I thought with the gravel on top there wouldn't be enough direct exchange for so much of the tannins to leach so soon. Apparently not.

I would say that the plants installed so far were emersed pre-purchase, with the exception of my Anubias Nana from the old 10 gal that was immersed in gravel only. Right now I have a lot of pennywort because it was on sale at the LFS and supposedly grows quickly. I also have some type of sword, I believe (looks like long blades of grass). Also, right now I wouldn't call the tank heavily planted. I want to add some grass or baby tears, maybe a couple more Anubias, sword, and moss. From what I understand of the Walstad method, I'm thinking that I need more plant volume, particularly to keep the nitrates in check. So, as I am buying more of these plants, should I be immersing them or leaving them emersed and anchored and just letting the roots find their own way to the soil?

I put some AmQuel Plus ammonia detoxifier in the aquarium yesterday. It supposedly renders the ammonia and nitrites harmless while not affecting beneficial bacteria. It seemed to bring the ammonia and nitrite levels down a bit, but seemingly no more so than a water change would.

Also, at the moment I have two Aqueon 10s. I was running them without carbon because I had read that carbon removes the ammonia and nitrites and slows the development of the beneficial bacteria. Yesterday I added the carbon just to help keep the chemicals in check and because I had hoped that the filtration media and carbon would help pull some of the tannin out. So far, not so much. I see that you say activated carbon will help pull out the tannins. Is there something that will remove the tannins from the water? Plant or otherwise?

I was under the impression that high filtration and water flow wasn't necessary, and possibly was detrimental to, the development of an NPT (because it slows bacteria development and adds too much oxygen). I just ordered an Aqueon 55/75 which by itself will flow twice what the two 10s flow (400gph v. 100gph ea). Is that going to be counterproductive?

I'm all flora at this point. Once I get the aquarium cycled, I am thinking about adding some shrimp and possibly some danios or something similar. I don't really want bright colored (tropical) fish because I don't plan to heat the aquarium and because I am looking for a more natural pond/stream look.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Just did a water change. Still having pennywort stems melting.

Here are some close ups of what is presently in the tank.









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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Today's new additions (mondo grass, Marimo moss balls, blaaheri sword and melon sword):









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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Thanks for the heads up. It was fully submerged when I got it so I just assumed. Newbie mistake. Probably intended for a terrarium. I don't really have a way to get its leaves above the water surface so I may have to remove it.

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Discussion Starter · #19 · (Edited)
Got the new Aqueon 55/75 powerhead. Flows pretty well. I set it up close to the center of the "back" of the aquarium, looking for a place where it wouldn't move the plants too much. This morning the tank looks cloudy (milky white with yellow tannin). Wondering if I have too much flow. It could also be that I stirred up the substrate a bit when I planted the new plants a day or so ago. In addition to the two standard charcoal filter media that comes with the unit, I put in a bag of Purigen in the open space inside the PH.

Haven't done a water test in a couple of days. I will likely do that, and possibly a water change, later this evening.
 
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